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How often do you give your child a compliment only to hear them negate it?  For example, if you say, “that drawing is great!”, they retort with “no it’s not it stinks.” Or if they make an excellent shot in basketball, and you say, “nice shot,” they state “no it wasn’t. I missed, I stink. As a parent whose child does this, I can relate to how frustrating it is to listen to and watch your child consistently say they “stink” at things. It is heartbreaking to hear my son put himself down.

As a parent whose child does this, I can relate to how frustrating it is to listen to and watch your child consistently say they “stink” at things. It is heartbreaking to hear my son put himself down.

What you may not realize is that this is a common occurrence with many children and especially children who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and have low self-esteem. These kids struggle greatly with accepting praise and compliments. Have you ever stopped to consider why this is?

Believe it or not, the difficulty with compliments and praise has to do with how children feel about themselves. The recognition given does not match the way they feel about themselves, and his abilities.  For this reason, your praise gets dismissed because your child sees it as inaccurate. 

Praise and compliments are only useful when they are congruent with how the person feels about himself and his abilities.  One of the biggest difficulties is that even though your child has trouble accepting compliments and praise, many children with anxiety and low self-esteem still need to hear good things about themselves. Even though it is hard to recognize and quickly dismissed, it is welcomed. 

How should parents and others who work with children with these diagnoses handle this “catch 22?” The answer is simpler than you may think. Praise effort and progress, not concrete achievements, skill or ability. 

For instance, if your child historically has not been attending school regularly, but has improved in the current year, you could say something like “I hope you are proud of yourself and know that I am proud of you for getting to school more this year than last year at this time!”

If your child has historically not done any homework but is now doing some, compliment their effort to complete at least some of the work.

If your child is a picky eater and has been resistant to trying new foods, praise their willingness if they try a new food. That is both progress and effort.  Be sure to appreciate both.

Children with low self-esteem and anxiety will be much more accepting of praise that acknowledges progress and effort. The reason for this is, praising these two things removes the factor of how your child feels about himself.  The compliments and praise will be much more efficient because to appreciate progress and effort the praise doesn’t have to be congruent with how s/he feels about him/herself, their skills or abilities.  Effort and progress are not connected to ones’ opinion of themselves, or their opinion of their skills or abilities.

Praising effort and progress allow your child to feel good about themselves because it acknowledges how hard he is trying and how far they have come. Praising effort and progress becomes a win/win situation for both of you!pexels-photo-127968-large

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